THE UK Government has been branded an "international embarrassment" after cutting aviation taxes just days before the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

In his Budget speech, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said cutting air passenger duty (APD) on domestic flights would help reduce the cost of living, with nine million passengers set to see their duty cut by half. 

He also said it would be a boost to regional airports such as Aberdeen and Inverness because they tend to have a greater proportion of domestic passengers. 

The Office for Budget Responsibility said the move could result in around 410,000 more passenger journeys a year, a 3.5 per cent rise.

Elsewhere, Mr Sunak also scrapped a planned hike in fuel duty, which the OBR said is expected to increase fuel purchases over the next five years by 450 million litres - a 0.2% rise.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford called the APD cut a "disgrace".

Speaking in the Commons, he said: "The fact is that C02 emissions per mile are much higher on domestic flights than they are on long haul flights.

"If [Mr Sunak] thinks that he's going to cut air passenger duty for Inverness and the Highlands and islands, then he's wrong because there is no APD in Inverness and one would have thought if he's going to make announcements he would have checked his facts before he makes them."

Scottish Green finance spokesman Ross Greer said: “This is a Budget written for the Tories' corporate donors, not for the millions of people across the UK who desperately need help after a decade of Westminster austerity and a disastrous Brexit process.

"It certainly wasn't written with the planet's future in mind either.

"To cut aviation taxes just days before hosting COP26 has confirmed the UK Government's reputation as an international embarrassment."

He added: "The investment in green tech does not go far enough, and the plans to spend £21 billion on roads while cutting air passenger duty for domestic flights, as well as freezing fuel duty, take a wrecking ball to the UK's climate obligations when we are only days away from COP. 

"The Tories are a clear and present danger to our planet."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton called the Budget "a toxic cocktail of cost-of-living hikes and planetary neglect".

He said the air passenger duty cut would "make it easier for Conservative ministers to get to COP26 but harder to tackle the climate emergency".

However, Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said the move "marks a hugely positive step forward for the recovery of our travel and aviation sector".

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Sunak said: "Right now, people pay more for return flights with and between the four nations of the United Kingdom than they do when flying home from abroad."

He added: "Today, I can announce that flights between airports in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will, from April 2023, be subject to a new, lower rate of air passenger duty. 

"This will help cut the cost of living, with nine million passengers seeing their duty cut by half.

"It will bring people together across the United Kingdom, and because they tend to have a greater proportion of domestic passengers, it is a boost to regional airports like Aberdeen, Belfast, Inverness and Southampton."

Mr Sunak continued: "Most emissions come from international rather than domestic aviation.

"So we are introducing, from April 2023, a new ultra long haul band in air passenger duty – covering flights of over 5,500 miles, with an economy rate of £91. Less than 5% of passengers will pay more, but those who fly furthest will pay the most."

The Chancellor said scrapping the rise in fuel duty represented "a saving over the next five years of almost £8 billion".

He said: "After 12 consecutive years of frozen rates, the average car driver will now save a total of £1,900."

COP26 will take place in Glasgow between October 31 and November 12, and will see more than 25,000 delegates descend on the city.